15 Things You Didn't Know About GNC

If you're a take a daily supplement or have a protein powder habit, odds are you've visited a GNC store. But do you know everything there is to know about this popular company?

GNC Was Founded in 1935

GNC was started in 1935 by a young man named David Shakarian. Shakarian was the son of Armenian immigrants who were also entrepreneurs in the health food business.

GNC First Opened in Pittsburgh

After attending a lecture about nutrition, Shakarian decided to open a small health food store in downtown Pittsburgh.

GNC Was Originally Called Lackzoom

He called his business Lackzoom and set out to provide healthy, nutritious foods to the people of Pittsburgh.

GNC Grew Quickly

Though Shakarian only made $35 on his first day of business, he managed to open a second health food store just six months later.

A Flood Almost Shut GNC’s Doors Forever

Though Shakarian only made $35 on his first day of business, he managed to open a second health food store just six months later.

GNC Used to Specialize in Yogurt

Lackzoom primarily sold health foods, specifically yogurt. Shakarian's father helped introduce the protein-packed food to the United States when he emigrated from Armenia.

…And Other Foods

The store also sold other nutritious foods, such as honey, whole grains, and healthy sandwiches.

Lackzoom Became the Leader in Wellness Products

After surviving World War II as a mail-order company, Lackzoom entered the postwar era as the leading purveyor of wellness products.

The Change From Lackzoon to GNC

The 1960s saw the burgeoning of the health and fitness movement. In response to consumer demand for vitamins and other supplements, Lackzoom changed its name to GNC, or General Nutrition Company in 1960.

GNC Started the Production of Generic Supplements

In addition to selling health foods, GNC started producing their own brand of vitamin and mineral supplements, as well as beverages and cosmetics. This marked the beginning of the production of generic supplements.

GNC Saw Rapid Expansion in the 1980s

By the early 1980s, GNC had more than 1,000 stores located around the country. Their success was so profound Shakarian once boasted that GNC was "virtually immune to the recession."

The “King of Health” Was Not So Healthy

GNC's founder died of cancer in 1984. Until a heart attack made Shakarian change his lifestyle, the health king had smoked between 15 and 20 cigars every day.

GNC Is Still Operated Out of Pittsburgh

Although the Shakarian family no longer owns the company, the GNC corporate office is still in Pittsburgh. The GNC Headquarters is located just two blocks from the original Lackzoom storefront.

GNC Expands Internationally

As of September 2014, GNC had more than 8,800 locations, 6,500 of which are located in the United States. GNC has franchise locations in over 50 countries around the world, and has company-owned locations in Canada, Puerto Rico, and Ireland.

GNC Supports Several Philanthropic Organizations

In 2009, GNC raised money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society during reality star Phil Keoghan's 40-day bike "Ride Across America." The company established donation stations in multiple store locations and collected $300,000 in the first 30 days of Keoghan's ride.

GNC Joined Partners with St. Jude’s

GNC joined St. Jude Children's Research Hospital as a partner in 2006. Since then, the company has raised more than $16.5 million for St. Jude's patients and families. Families never receive a bill for treatment, travel, housing, or food at St. Jude's and GNC is essential to keeping that mission alive.

GNC Has a “Truth in Labeling” Policy

GNC truth in labeling policy claims to support transparency regarding all potential ingredients and allergens. According to their website, all of their products and labels comply with the Dietary Supplement Health And Education Act.

GNC Has Been Accused of Selling Fraudulent and Laced Products

Despite their honesty claims, GNC has come under speculation by the government and health advocates. An investigation conducted in early 2015 revealed that a number of supplements from different retailers were both ineffective and potentially dangerous.

GNC Was Found to Use Cheap Fillers Instead of Herbs

Four out of five supplements did not contain any of the herbs on their labels. Those that claimed to contain medicinal herbs contained cheap fillers, such as powdered rice and houseplants. These could be dangerous to people with allergies.

GNC Vowed to Ensure Authenticity of All Herbal Supplements

In March 2015, GNC reached an agreement with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman concerning the company's Herbal Plus products. GNC pledged to be more vigilant in testing its supplements and to follow the Food and Drug Administration's manufacturing recommendations.

GNC Established DNA Bar Coding on Ingredients

By September 2016, GNC will perform DNA barcoding on all plant ingredients used in its products to test purity and authenticity. They will also provide more prominent labeling to inform customers about any extracts within the supplements.

GNC Was Sued for Using Illegal Ingredients

In October 2015, the Attorney General of Oregon sued GNC for allegedly selling supplements containing several ingredients that are banned by the FDA.

GNC’s Using Prescription Drugs

One of these illegal ingredients is picamilon, a Russian prescription drug used to treat neurological conditions. The other is BMPEA, which was first produced in the 1930s as a replacement for amphetamines. It has never been tested for safety in humans.

GNC Responded to the Lawsuit

GNC formally responded to the lawsuit, saying that the claims made by the Oregon Attorney General were unfounded. "In response to FDA statements regarding the regulatory status of BMPEA and picamilon," the company stated, "GNC promptly took action to remove from sale all products containing those ingredients."